SAPPORO – The legend of Shohei Otani just continues to grow.
The two-way star came up with the biggest hit of the Japan Series so far, connecting on a sayonara single in the 10th inning that gave the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters a 4-3 win over the Hiroshima Carp in Game 4 on Tuesday night at Sapporo Dome.
The Fighters earned their first win of the series and avoided going into a 3-0 hole. The win also means there will be a Game 5.
“Of course, that was huge,” manager Hideki Kuriyama said of Otani’s hit. “The count was not in his favor, but he came through for us. Today’s game was one of the most exciting this year, and the Series is not over.”
Otani, who had doubled twice earlier in the game, came to the plate in the 10th to face reliever Daichi Osera with a runner on first and two outs.
Otani fouled off the first pitch, took the second for a ball and swung through the third, as Haruki Nishikawa, who had walked with one out, stole second. Otani then connected on a 147-kph fastball that went into right field and allowed the speedy Nishikawa to score from second.
“I was thinking he would come with a fastball outside or a forkball inside,” Otani said. “Since I didn’t need an extra-base hit in that situation, I just wanted for one of those.”
Otani was back in his normal hitting position, third in the order and listed as the designated hitter. He started Game 1 on the mound and struck out 11 in six innings of a losing effort, also collecting a pair of hits in that game.
He struck out as a pinch hitter in Game 2.
Otani doubled in his first two at-bats on Tuesday before winning the game in his fifth trip to the plate.
“We’re in this situation because of my mediocre pitching,” Otani said. “So I wanted to make up for it, and that’s been my mindset during at-bats. We still have games to play and we want to continue to win.”
Pulling double duty is nothing new for the dynamic young player. Otani was 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA and 174 strikeouts in 140 innings on the mound during the regular season. At the plate, he hit .322 with 22 home runs and 67 RBIs.
Otani had three of the Fighters’ six hits in Game 3. Two of them came against Carp starter Hiroki Kuroda, who pitched well in what may be his career finale.
Kuroda gave the Carp one-run ball through two outs in the sixth. He did not factor into the decision.
The veteran left the mound with an apparent leg injury after recording two outs in the sixth. He walked off the field with a trainer to get treatment, but later returned to see if he could continue. He threw three practice pitches then turned and walked off again, as fans from both teams showered him with applause.
Kuroda’s first start in the Japan Series could turn out to be the last of his 20-year career. The 41-year-old has already announced his intention to retire at the end of the series. Kuroda was 124-105 in 13 seasons with the Carp and 79-79 in seven in the majors with the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees. A few MLB teams had hoped to sign him for this season, but the right-hander opted to return to where his career started.
Kuroda stood tall until the end. He allowed his only run on an RBI groundout in the first inning then retired the next seven batters he faced. Kuroda gave up hits at the start of both the fourth and fifth frames, but responded with three straight outs each time. He retired the first two batters of the sixth, including Otani who had doubled off him twice, before leaving.
“When I saw him come out of the game, I thought for a minute, “hopefully we can pull this out for him,'” Eldred said. “This is baseball, he’s played this game a long time, so he understands that we weren’t able to hang on. I’m sure it would’ve been great for all of us to get the win for him.”
Eldred’s two-run homer was his third four-bagger of the series. He’s homered in four consecutive postseason games, going deep in the final game of the Climax Series and all three games of the Japan Series thus far. He finished second on the Carp with 21 during the regular season.
“That’s all I could ask for,” Eldred said. “I’m doing the best I can to help the team. I don’t care if I get no hits, as long as we win. It’s great that I’m swinging the bat well, helping the team, but unfortunately we didn’t get the win and that’s the most important thing right now.”
Abe had a pair of hits for Hiroshima, including his game-tying single in the the ninth. Seiya Suzuki, who tripled to begin that inning, finished 2-for-4.
Nakata had three RBIs for Nippon Ham, one on a groundout in the first and two on his double in the eighth.
Keisuke Kondo hit a one-out single in the bottom of the first and, Otani doubled to put runners on second and third for Nakata. The Fighters slugger grounded out, but it was enough to get Kondo home to score the first run of the game.
Suzuki singled for the Carp in the top of the second, and Eldred drove him in with his two-run blast to make the score 2-1 in the visitors’ favor.
Takuya Nakashima walked to begin the bottom of the eighth and Nishikawa moved him over with a sacrifice bunt. Kondo popped out and the Carp opted to walk Otani. That brought Nakata to the plate, and the Fighters slugger delivered with a double to left that was just out of the reach of charging outfielder Ryuhei Matsuyama and allowed both runners to score.
“Nakata is our cleanup batter and he really came through for us after they walked Otani,” Kuriyama said.
Suzuki tripled off reliever Keisuke Tanimoto to begin the ninth. Eldred struck out and Tanimoto popped out to leave the Carp down to their last out. Tomohiro Abe then came through with a game-tying single to right.
“We’re a really good team at being able to come back from behind, and we did right there,” Eldred said. “We came back, scored the tying run. They obviously got the big hit there to win it. We had our chances, we just didn’t do it.”
Anthony Bass earned the win in relief while Osera was charged with the loss.
Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5